Community Colleges Worry About Being Swept Into Proposed Gainful-Employment Regulations
The proposed gainful-employments rules aimed at reigning in for-profit colleges may also affect other sectors of higher education, namely community colleges.
"Unfortunately, there is a high probability that community colleges will be swept along with the for-profits into a category that will subject the institutions to greater regulation and reporting requirements," writes George Boggs, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Community Colleges in a Sept. 2 update to board members.
AACC has joined with other higher education groups to submit letters of concern to the Department of Education's proposed gainful-employment rules designed to crack down on abuses in the for-profit education industry.
Boggs urges community college leaders to take the time to contact the department prior to Sept. 9 for public comment to let the regulators know how the rules will affect their institutions and students. While the proposed regulations are complex, Boggs worries that the regulations would limit a college's ability to respond quickly to the needs of its community by requiring federal approval of programs and would add costly reporting requirements.
AACC, along with several other associations, has signed a letter sent by the American Council on Education and has joined with the Association of Community College Trustees in sending a separate letter to the Department of Education.
In a conference call last month to go over the rules with the department, community college leaders learned that 30,000 of the 50,000 programs potentially covered by the gainful-employment rules were community college programs.
Much of the drive for more oversight was linked to the concern that for-profits were increasingly supported with federal student loans that graduates have not been able to repay. Community college leaders point to the 2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) that shows just 5 percent of students in certificate programs at public 2-year certificate programs borrowed federal loans in 2008 compared with 77 percent at for-profits. About 84 percent of private for-profit students in certificate programs borrowed at all in 2008, compared with 21 percent at public 4-year institutions, 45 percent of those at private not-for-profits, and 9 percent at public two-year colleges.
While many feel community colleges will be required to abide by the proposed rules, if they are adopted, leaders in the field are hoping others will voice their concern in public comment ending next week.
Sandra Kurtinitis, president of The Community College of Baltimore County, says she initially had not paid close attention to the gainful-employment proposal because she didn't think it would directly affect the school. But she is following it now as it might require some additional data collection on graduates and their jobs. While accountability is a good thing, Kurtinitis says response to graduate follow-up surveys is not high, and she thinks it would be a challenge to track students. With 74,000 students in 100 associate degree programs and 200 substantial certificate programs, being required to do this additional data collection would be very significant, says Kurtinitis.
The additional regulation would likely mean adding staff in the research office, which would be difficult as the college is beginning the year with $2.6 million less than last. "We would do it, of course. But it's an unfortunate time to ramp up the energy to approach collecting the data," she says. Kurtinitis says she hopes ACCT and others weighing in on the issue might make a difference, but for now, community colleges will have to wait and see.